Most businesses in Northern Ireland would choose the backstop over a no-deal Brexit scenario, a leading figure has suggested.
hile some business leaders were adopting a wait-and-see approach in the wake of the leaked letter from Theresa May to the DUP leadership, Seamus Leheny of the Freight Transport Association said he believed most would take the backstop over a no-deal situation which he said could leave Northern Ireland's economy "in tatters".
The Prime Minister's five-page letter appeared to suggest that she would be prepared to agree to a backstop scenario, seen by the EU as the safety net for a frictionless Irish border in the event of a failure to strike a deal with the UK.
However, the backstop could see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union and align itself to parts of the single market, resulting in a border down the Irish Sea.
Mr Leheny said while the value of goods shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland is a good deal higher than what moves across the border to the Republic, the volume heading south is much greater.
In 2016 some 800,000 trailers of goods moved via ferry between Britain and the ports of Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint. Analysis on 12 cross-border roads in the same year identified 4.6 million goods vehicles. But in monetary terms, £4bn of goods were exported to the Republic in 2016, compared with £14.6bn to Britain.
"At recent meetings in Belfast, London and Brussels, all business sectors from Northern Ireland have agreed a no-deal Brexit must be avoided," said Mr Leheny.
"To pursue, or indeed to sleepwalk into, a no-deal Brexit would unravel the carefully tailored economy of Northern Ireland and potentially leave it in tatters."
Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Tina McKenzie said: "While there has been significant comment around a so-called 'hybrid backstop', it would be unwise to welcome or endorse proposals for which there is no written text available to judge.
"However, what is clear is that an agreed backstop to ensure that the Northern Ireland/Ireland border continues to be frictionless remains elusive."
In recent weeks the FSB has promoted the idea of Northern Ireland as an 'enhanced economic zone', allowing it to trade freely into the UK market and throughout Europe.
Ms McKenzie said it could incentivise EU and British businesses to use local ports and airports to transfer and process goods, potentially turning Northern Ireland into the "Singapore of the Western Hemisphere".
"This proposal would simultaneously meet all of the concerns expressed by all sides in the negotiations, whilst establishing Northern Ireland as an international trading hub; in essence rendering the need for a backstop unnecessary," she said.